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The Castelli Free Aero RC Bib Tights are a brilliant winter option for all but the coldest days. The fit is spot on, and the soft material is supportive and sees off light rain. While the price seems high, these are some of the best winter bib tights I know of, and will see a lot of use if you like to get out on the road throughout the winter.
I'm not much of an indoor training fan during the winter. While I concede that it is very efficient, I prefer to ride my bike to a destination, turn around, realise I've gone out in a tailwind, then slog home cursing my route planning. As a result, I very much appreciate a good set of bib tights.
These Castelli Free Aero RC bib tights fit very much like the summer race bib shorts that bear the same name. They're a close-fitting, race-cut pair of tights that balance protection and breathability in a way that is ideal for an often mild UK winter.
The tights are a game of two halves, with the upper section being made from a Nano Flex 3G fabric, before a seam placed above the knee allows Castelli to switch to Nano Flex Stretch for the journey down to the zipless ankle.
I was initially suspicious of this approach, tending to prefer bib tights that use a continuous piece of fabric for the whole of the leg. But Castelli's needlework is very good and the stitch is well placed, out of the way of the knee, while also being very subtle.
The upper Nano Flex 3G portion is a little weightier, with the result being thighs that are well insulated from cool-to-cold conditions. You get a bit of rain protection built in, but it is only enough for a light shower or a bit of time sat behind someone who isn't using mudguards. Before you get soaked by their rear wheel spray, you should move forward and recommend that they fit some.
Move down the leg to the Nano Flex Stretch material and you'll again find a bit of protection from wheel-spray. This is combined with less insulation, which I found very helpful when wearing the tights with overshoes as it didn't leave my shins all sweaty.
On that note, the Free Aero RC tights do really well on the breathability front, allowing you to stay comfortable if the effort or temperature increases. Castelli rates these tights for use between 2-12°C, but I've been happily pushing the upper end of that range a little higher on easier rides.
Down at the end of the leg, you'll find no ankle zip or gripper, with Castelli opting for a raw-cut finish. While those with longer legs might be worried about the lower leg riding up, I haven't found this to be the case, and Castelli claims that this solution is easy to pull on and then comfier when using overshoes. I'd agree on both points, though I will be watching the ankle area for any signs that the material is losing its elasticity.
Castelli's Progetto X2 Air Seamless seat pad has been an excellent fixture in a number of its shorts and tights over the past few years and it is brilliant here too (here's a pic of the one from the shorts).
There is plenty of dense padding where you need it, with no bunching. It just faded into the background, leaving me comfortably enjoying my rides.
The bib straps come straight from the Free Aero RC Bib Shorts that Mat reviewed in May of this year. While the sunny weather he enjoyed has gone, the super-flat straps that he really liked are back, and I would agree with what he said. There is loads of stretch, they're very breathable, and, really, you're never going to notice them when riding.
Down on the lower back, you get a little pocket. The pros might use this for a race radio, and while I never found anything I'd want to put in there, you might want to stash a gel or some keys.
There are some small reflective details on the back of the thighs, but they're only going to add a little bit of visibility so on a dull day you'll want a rear light.
While £190 is a lot to spend on bib tights, with their excellent comfort and wide range of use through the winter months, at least you're going to be wearing these a lot. And you can easily spend more. The Assos Equipe RS Spring Fall Bib Tights S9 that Ashley tested are £240, and if you go for the Winter version of the S9, you'll be paying £335.
A great option at a lower price would be the Nopinz Endurance Bib Tights at £114.99. We've reviewed the women's version, with Anna praising them highly for value.
Overall, these are brilliant winter bib tights that I'll be reaching for until the sun warms up again in late March. The pad is excellent, they're super-comfortable and the Nano Flex fabrics work very well.
Cosy, protective and breathable, these are brilliant for a long winter
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Castelli Free Aero RC Bib Tights
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the product is for
"The Free Aero RC Bibtight is made to be your first choice for most of your winter riding. Everything about it is focused on keeping you comfortable and at the right temperature. Every detail, every fabric, every seam will make your winter riding better. This is the tight for those cool to cold days. Not for bitter cold, when you'll want to use a Sorpasso or Sorpasso Wind. Not for mild days, when you'll use leg warmers or a Semifreddo Bibtight. This is for maximum comfort on those days when you need warmth but you're not fighting for survival '' those days when you're doing long rides getting ready for the season. Most of the tight is constructed from our Nano Flex 3G fabric. Our third generation of Nano Flex is luxuriously soft, warm, and stretchy. But it also offers excellent breathability, keeps a lot of the wind out, and has our updated Nano Flex water-repellent finish. The lower legs are in our lighter-weight Nano Flex stretch woven fabric with a lightly brushed inside and with leading water repellency. For the rest of the tight we've kept it simple: minimalist Free bib straps that you won't notice, and raw-cut leg endings that are stretchy enough to not need ankle zippers, improving comfort when you pull shoecovers over the top. This is supposed to be your long-ride comfort tight, so the Progetto X2 Air Seamless pad will be protecting your backside."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Nano Flex 3G fabric from waist to knee for soft warmth with maximum stretch and water repellency
Nano Flex stretch woven fabric with brushed fleece inside at lower leg for splash protection on wet roads
Stretchy bottom of leg with raw-cut edge means ankle zipper is not necessary
Minimalist bib straps, as found on the Free Aero RC Bibshort, don't add extra bulk
Rear pocket at bottom of bib straps
Reflective tabs on back of legs
Progetto X2 Air Seamless seat pad for long hours in the saddle
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Easy. I washed them at 30°C and then line dried.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really well. These are cosy and protective.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The temperature range means they're going to be useful throughout the winter.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're at the higher end, but not as pricey as some.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Expensive but very good: they protect well, and with good breathability and a wide temperature range, they are going to get a lot of use.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, general fitness riding, I specialise in the Cafe Ride!